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Q&A: Surfshark boosts ‘DIY security’ with its rollout of VPN-supplied antivirus protection

By Byron V. Acohido

Surfshark wants to help individual citizens take very direct control of their online privacy and security.

Thus, Surfshark has just become the first VPN provider to launch an antivirus solution as part of its all-in-one security bundle Surfshark One.

Related: Turning humans into malware detectors

This development is part and parcel of rising the trend of VPN providers hustling to deliver innovative “DIY security” services into the hands of individual consumers.

It’s notable that this is happening at a time when Microsoft, Apple and Google are going the opposite direction – by natively embedding more consumer-grade security services into their popular operating systems, like Windows, Mac, IoS and Android. And let’s not forget the longstanding, multi-billion market of antivirus software subscriptions directed at consumers.

The consumer anti-virus vendors have been generating massive subscription revenue for two decades; though this market is mature and in a consolidation phase, it is not going to disappear anytime soon, as suggested by  NortonLifeLock’s $8 billion buyout of Avast.

Last year I agreed to serve a one-year term on Surfshark’s advisory board. I accepted because I appreciated Surfshark’s emphasis on privacy and security — and saw it as a way to learn more about the consumer cybersecurity market.

Author Q&A: In modern cyberwarfare ‘information security’ is one in the same with ‘national security’

By Byron V. Acohido

What exactly constitutes cyberwarfare?

The answer is not easy to pin down. On one hand, one could argue that cyber criminals are waging an increasingly debilitating economic war on consumers and businesses in the form of account hijacking, fraud, and extortion. Meanwhile, nation-states — the superpowers and second-tier nations alike — are hotly pursuing strategic advantage by stealing intellectual property, hacking into industrial controls, and dispersing political propaganda at an unheard-of scale.

Related: Experts react to Biden’s cybersecurity executive order

Now comes a book by John Arquilla, titled Bitskrieg: The New Challenge of Cyberwarfare, that lays out who’s doing what, and why, in terms of malicious use of digital resources connected over the Internet. Arquilla is a distinguished professor of defense analysis at the United States Naval Postgraduate School. He coined the term ‘cyberwar,’ along with David Ronfeldt, over 20 years ago and is a leading expert on the threats posed by cyber technologies to national security.

Bitskrieg gives substance to, and connects the dots between, a couple of assertions that have become axiomatic:

•Military might no longer has primacy. It used to be the biggest, loudest weapons prevailed and prosperous nations waged military campaigns to achieve physically measurable gains. Today, tactical cyber strikes can come from a variety of operatives – and they may have mixed motives, only one of which happens to be helping a nation-state achieve a geo-political objective.

•Information is weaponizable. This is truer today than ever before. Arquilla references nuanced milestones from World War II to make this point – and get you thinking. For instance, he points out how John Steinbeck used a work of fiction to help stir the resistance movement across Europe.

Steinbeck’s imaginative novel, The Moon is Down, evocatively portrayed how ordinary Norwegians took extraordinary measures to disrupt Nazi occupation. This reference got me thinking about how Donald Trump used social media to stir the Jan. 6 insurrection in … more

Q&A: All-powerful developers begin steering to the promise land of automated security

By Byron V. Acohido

Software developers have become the masters of the digital universe.

Related: GraphQL APIs pose new risks

Companies in the throes of digital transformation are in hot pursuit of agile software and this has elevated developers to the top of the food chain in computing.

There is an argument to be made that agility-minded developers, in fact, are in a terrific position to champion the rearchitecting of Enterprise security that’s sure to play out over the next few years — much more so than methodical, status-quo-minded security engineers.

With Black Hat USA 2021 reconvening in Las Vegas this week, I had a deep discussion about this with Himanshu Dwivedi, founder and chief executive officer, and Doug Dooley, chief operating officer, of Data Theorem, a Palo Alto, CA-based supplier of a SaaS security platform to help companies secure their APIs and modern applications.

For a full drill down on this evocative conversation discussion please view the accompanying video. Here are the highlights, edited for clarity and length:

LW:  Bad actors today are seeking out APIs that they can manipulate, and then they follow the data flow to a weakly protected asset. Can you frame how we got here?

Dwivedi: So 20 years ago, as a hacker, I’d go see where a company registered its IP. I’d do an ARIN Whois look-up. I’d profile their network and build an attack tree. Fast forward 20 years and everything is in the cloud. Everything is in Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform or Microsoft Azure and I can’t tell where anything is hosted based solely on IP registration.

So as a hacker today, I’m no longer looking for a cross-site scripting issue of some website since I can only attack one person at a time with that. I’m looking at the client, which could be an IoT device, or a mobile app or a single page web app (SPA) or it could be an … more

Q&A: ‘Credential stuffers’ leverage enduring flaws to prey on video game industry

By Byron V Acohido

The video game industry saw massive growth in 2020; nothing like a global pandemic to drive  people to spend more time than ever gaming.

Related: Credential stuffers exploit Covid 19 pandemic

Now comes a report from Akamai detailing the extent to which cyber criminals preyed on this development. The video game industry withstood nearly 11 billion credential stuffing attacks in 2020, a 224 percent spike over 2019. The attacks were steady and large, taking place at a rate of millions per day, with two days seeing spikes of more than 100 million.

This metric shows how bad actors redoubled their efforts to rip off consumers fixated on spending  real money on character enhancements and additional levels. The big takeaway, to me, is how they accomplished  this – by refining and advancing credential stuffing.

Credential stuffing is a type of advanced brute force hacking that leverages software automation to insert stolen usernames and passwords into web page forms, at scale, until the attacker gains access to a targeted account.

We know from a Microsoft report how hacking groups backed by Russia, China and Iran have aimed such attacks against hundreds of organizations involved in both the 2020 presidential race and U.S.-European policy debates. And credential stuffing was the methodology used by a Nigerian crime ring

Q&A: Akamai reports web attack traffic spiked 62 percent in 2020 — all sectors hit hard

By Byron V. Acohido

Some instructive fresh intelligence about how cyber attacks continue to saturate the Internet comes to us from Akamai Technologies.

Related: DHS launches 60-day cybersecurity sprints

Akamai, which happens to be the Hawaiian word for “smart,” recently released its annual State of the Internet security report. As a leading global content delivery network (CDN), Akamai has a birdseye view of what is coursing through cyber space moment-by-moment. In 2020, it saw 193 billion credential stuffing attacks globally, with 3.4 billion hitting financial services organizations — an increase of more than 45 percent year-over-year in that sector.

Meanwhile, threat actors’ siege on web applications surged 62 percent in 2020 vs.  2019: Akamai observed nearly 6.3 billion web app attacks last year, with more than 736 million targeting financial services.

The majority were SQL Injection (SQLi) attacks, which made up 68 percent of all web app attacks in 2020; Local File Inclusion (LFI) attacks came in second at 22 percent. However, in the financial services industry, LFI attacks were the number one web application attack type in 2020 at 52 percent, with SQLi at 33 percent and Cross-Site Scripting at 9 percent.

I had the chance to visit with the estimable Steve Ragan, the Akamai analyst who put together this report. I’ve known Ragan for a long time and greatly respect his work. He’s excellent at putting himself in the shoes of the threat actors. Here are excerpts of our discussion, edited for clarity and length.

Q: The scale of ‘attacks’ in 2020 is astronomical: 6.3 billion web attacks globally; 736 million in the financial services sector. Can you break this down, and put it into a useful context? For instance, what constitutes a single web attack?

A: You’re right. It is astronomical. For Akamai, a single alert is an attack, and a group of attacks could be called a campaign. In 2020, we observed a healthy mix of both attacks and … more

Q&A: Forrester poll – security decision makers report breaches escalated as Covid 19 spread

By Byron V. Acohido

Human suffering and economic losses weren’t the only two things that escalated with the spread of Covid 19 last year.

Related: Can ‘SASE’ help companies secure connectivity?

Network breaches also increased steadily and dramatically month-to-month in 2020. This development is delineated in a recent report from technology research firm Forrester.

In its summary report – The State of Network Security, 2020 To 2021—Forrester combined findings derived from several surveys the firm conducted during the course of last year; Forrester polled security decision makers in organizations across North America and Europe.

The overarching takeaway: more organizations were breached, more often, in 2020 that 2019; some 58% of security decision-makers in North America and Europe reported dealing with at least one breach in 2020 as compared to 48% in 2019.

Notably, the number of organizations that said they were breached more than three times in the 12-month period was up significantly, as well.

Both external and internal cyber assaults were pervasive. Attacks routinely routed through through employees, contractors and vendors; in short, folks granted access for legitimate reasons in order to participate in cloud-based commerce.

Some 40% of respondents who experienced a breach due to an internal incident said it was due to intentional abuse of access rights from current or former employees; 38% said it was from accidental or inadvertent misuse by employees; and 22% said it was a combination of both.

Q&A: Here’s why securing mobile apps is an essential key to tempering political division

By Byron V. Acohido

Finally, Facebook and Twitter muzzled Donald Trump, preventing him from using his favorite online bully pulpits to spread disinformation. It only took Trump inciting a failed coup d’état that cost five lives.

Related: How a Russian social media app is radicalizing disaffected youth

The action taken by Facebook and Twitter last week was a stark reminder of how digital tools and services can be manipulated by badly motivated parties in insidious ways.

The risks and exposures intrinsic to our favorite digital tools and services runs very deep, indeed. This is something that we’re going to have to address. As the presidential election unfolded in the fall, for example, there were revelations about how mobile apps used by political candidates were rife with security flaws that played right into the hands of propagandists and conspiracy theorists.

Data Theorem, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based software security vendor specializing in API exposures, took a close look at the gaping vulnerabilities in mobile app used by the Biden and Trump campaigns, respectively, and came up with a scoring system to rate the security-level of each camp’s main mobile app to reach voters.

On Android, the Official Trump 2020 App ranked nearly three times as secure as the Vote Joe App, for a simplistic reason: the Trump app used the most recent version of Android OS. Newer versions of Android provided more security and privacy benefits.

That said, neither the Biden nor the Trump apps enforced Android’s Verify Apps feature, which scans for potentially harmful Apps on the device. If the Verify Apps feature is turned off, any apps side-loaded onto the user’s device do not get scanned for malware, Doug Dooley, Data Theorem’s chief operating officer, told me.